A pediatric journal found that more than 140,000 U.S. children lost a parent or grandparent caregiver who died from COVID-19, and 65% of those children were Black, Latino, and indigenous, far outpacing their population.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published the results of their “COVID-19—Associated Orphanhood and Caregiver Death in the United States” research study in their October journal issue of Pediatrics. Over the period studied, April 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, more than 140,000 U.S. children lost a caregiver from the virus. Racial and ethnic minorities were disproportionately impacted, and experienced losses at a rate 4.5 times higher than their white counterparts.

“The highest burden of COVID-19–associated death of parents and caregivers occurred in Southern border states for Hispanic children, in Southeastern states for Black children, and in states with tribal areas for American Indian and/or Alaska Native populations.”

Alexandra Blenkinsop, co-author of the Pediatrics study, said, “We were already aware that minorities were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 mortality…However, we were surprised by the degree to which these inequalities were magnified when looking at children losing their caregivers. Minorities represent only 39% of the U.S. population, so to find 65% of children orphaned were of a racial or ethnic minority group is one of the most profound disparities we’re aware of.”

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This is a worldwide phenomenon as demonstrated by the results of another study published by The Lancet, a science journal, earlier this summer. More than 1.5 million children across the globe “have lost at least one parent, grandparent or another caregiver to COVID-19.” The U.S. is ranked fourth, “behind Mexico, Brazil and India.

The impacts of losing a parent or caregiver cannot be understated—these losses are the people who watched over them, did laundry, fed them, housed them, and ensured they went to school. When they’re no longer there, an integral part of making a child’s day to day life possible is gone.

According to Forbes, “[w]hen a child loses a parent or caregiver, they are not just affected emotionally but also lose financial support and become at greater risk of dropping out of school, developing anxiety, depression, alcohol, and other substance abuse issues.” Furthermore, these effects do not even take into account the additional stressors and conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, including economic hardship and social isolation. 

Pediatrics study’s lead author Susan Hillis, who is a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researcher said, “Any time you have something killing the adult, you’re going to have children left behind who suffer orphanhood…It happened in the 1980s with HIV/AIDS, it happened with Ebola and it’s happening now…As the number of adverse events the child is exposed to increases, the risk of every major cause of death in adulthood increases—cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, suicide. It’s just really shocking how related those adverse childhood experiences are to adult death.”

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